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Strolling Through Paradise

a deeper look at the weekly Torah portion


by

Elchanan Shoff Shmini: Lchaim!


Hashem spoke to Aaron and said: Do not drink wine or any alcohol, neither you nor your children when you enter the tent of Meeting, neither you nor your children; this is an eternal rule - for all generations. Vayikira 10:9
Everything bad that has every happened in the world is the result of wine. Adam Harishon drank wine at his marriage reception, and it led him to sin.1 There would never have been death in the world otherwise. Noah drank wine, and suffered terribly as a result. He never had another child as a result of his excess. Lot was only convinced to engage in his incestuous liaisons while under the influence of alcohol. The golden calf was only created because the Jews had been drinking wine.2 The sons of Aaron only committed the sin that led to their fiery deaths as a result of having imbibed wine. The Baalei Hatosafos3 tell us that the ben sorer umoreh (rebellious son) is killed primarily as result of his drinking. The ten tribes were only exiled (and largely lost to the Jewish people) as a result of wine.4 The use of wine would seem to have wrought more trouble than the world has been able to tolerate. If not for the influence of spirits, the world would be sin free and death free wouldnt that be something! Do not be from those who guzzle wine.5 To one who fixes his gaze on the [wine] goblet, all paths seem just,6 are just a few of the places where Shlomo warned of the dangers of wine drinking. There is nothing in the world that brings wailing to a mans life as does wine drinking!7
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Daas Zekenim to Vaykira 10:9, see Sanhedrin 70a This assertion is made by Daas Zekenim Mibaalei Hatosafos Vayikra 10:9, quoting the verse in Shemos 32:6 The people sat, to eat and drink, and then got up to play frivolously. See Rashi there that this was also the cause of Churs murder, for frivolous play can mean murder, sexually immoral conduct, and idolatry. 3 ibid 4 Bereshis Rabbah 36:4 as quoted by Rashi to Bereshis 9:21. 5 Mishlei 23:20 6 Mishlei 23:31 7 Sanhedrin 70b
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The person who drinks excessively will eventually fitter away all of his assets, and his personal effects, leaving his home bare. He will convince himself that he is justified in violating any sin, and will say terrible things without any embarresment, for he is not in his right mind. He will not have any control of what he is doing or saying. He will eventually bring himself to four terrible sins; idolatry, promiscuity, murder, and slander. There is nothing more dangerous than wine, teaches the midrash.8 And yet its a mitzvah to drink wine on every Shabbos and Yom Tov! In fact, the word for drinking wine at these times is Kiddush for it brings holiness into ones life and home. The Torah itself is compared to wine.9 Wine is the central part of the seder, and one is obligated to have Pesach wine no matter how impoverished he is. The entire salvation of the Purim story, teaches the book of Esther, occurred at drinking parties. We celebrate Purim with our own drinking parties. There is a special reserve of wine - the Yayin Hameshumar10 - that Hashem is saving for a feast in the time of the Moshiach. Yaakov brought his father Yitzchak wine from Gan Eden11 just before he received the blessings from him. The only other place that wine is associated with goodness and blessing in the

Vayikra Rabbah 8 Talmud Yerushalmi Brachos 1:4, Zohar I:140a, Seder Eliyahu Zuta 13, Midrash Tanchuma Acharie Mos 10, Psikta dRav Kahanna 12:5 and Yalkut Shimoni to Tehillim 19 remez 676, are just several examples of this common theme in chazal. There is some question as to whether or not wine represents the written or oral Torah. The Midrash Talpiyos (anaf chachamin s.v. Midrash.) says that it refers to Oral Torah. R. Chaim Palagi in Yisamach Chaim (Yod, 35) says that according to Zohar I:140a quoted above, it refers to the oral Torah. The footnote in the Mizrachi ed. (Jerusalem 2002) questions this, for the Zohar merely says that wine and milk are the written and oral Torah and wonders where R. Chaim Palagi saw anything in the Zohar to cause him assume that the Zohar is different than the Midrash Talpiyos. R. Ashlag, in his Pirush HaSulam to the Zohar says that milk represents the oral Torah, and wine the written Torah thus bringing the Zohar in line with the opinion of the Midrash Talpiyos. The answer to the question raised in the footnote may lie in that fact that R. Chaim Palagi earlier in Yisamach Chaim (Ches, 49) quotes the very same Zohar to assert that milk represents the oral Torah! It may be that his edition of the Zohar simply said that wine and milk are the oral Torah, never mentioning the written Torah at all! Interesting to note, is that many commentaries understood the Zohar to mean that milk represents written Torah, and wine the oral Torah, such as R. Avraham Azulai (1570 - 1643 grandfather of Chida) in his Zoharei Chama, the great Morrocan kabbalist R. Shalom Buzaglo (17001780) in his Mikdash Melech, R. Yaakov Tzvi Yalish (1778- 1825 author of the more famous Mlo Haroim) in his work Kehilas Yaakov on Zohar, (although he suggests the opposite i.e. milk-oral, wine-written, as well. See also his Kehilas Yaakov on Chumash where he elaborates,) and R. Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel Safrin of Komarno (1806-1874) in his Zohar Chai. [For more on the significance of milk as the oral Torah, see Sfas Emes to Parsha Maasei, as well as Landscapes of the Spirit of R. Abba Tzvi Naiman, p. 141-5.] 10 Brachos 34b, Sanhedrin 99a 11 Daas Zekenim Mibaalei Tosafos to Bereshis 27:25
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Torah is when Malkitzedek greeted Avraham with wine and bread, says Daas Zekenim, for in those two instances, the made blessings upon the wine. Despite all of the places in Tanach that wine drinking is discouraged we have just learned that if a blessing is recited, it can then be an exercise in goodness and bring blessing! Additionally, we are taught in the Gemara12, that one who can remain intellectually calm despite his imbibing of wine is in some way as great as the 70 elders of the times of Moshe, for the gematria of the word yayin (wine) is 70.13 The Gemara there then even asserts that that calm man is even similar to G-d as well! It is thus clear that drinking is not frowned upon in and of itself. Drinking can either be and incredible spiritual experience, or a devastating physical one. When a man is on his way to be put to death by a Beis Din, he is given a cup of wine with a pinch of frankincense mixed in14, so that he will not feel the pain as acutely.15 In the relatively obscure but historically very important work Menoras Hamaor by R. Yisrael Alankavah, the author writes, When a man makes the Kiddush over a cup of wine, he pauses after the word savri, and the other people assembled there call out LChaim,16 (to life!) and then he makes the blessing. When a man is taken out to his death and given a cup of wine, he pauses after the word savri and the other people assembled there call out LMisa (to death!) What an unusual ritual. Certainly, calling out LChaim before drinking the Kiddush wine on Shabbos strikes us as a lovely custom. But to call out to death, to the man about to be killed what is that all about? In fact, there are several reasons given for the custom to call out LChaim at Kiddush. One of them, given by the Rav David Abudraham,17 is that since one who is taken out to be killed is given wine, we wish to emphasis that this wine is not, heaven forbid, a harbinger of death, but in fact it will bring life! He also suggests that since the tree of knowledge that Adam ate from was (according to some opinions) a grape tree, and that sin brought death into the world, we say LChaim! Others say18 that it is because Noah drank wine, and brought curses into the world for his grandson Canaan and his descendants were cursed by Hashem as a direct result of that incident, we wish to bring life and goodness into the world through our drinking, so we say LChaim. A fourth reason, of the Daas
Eruvin 65a See Rashi there s.v. Yatza Sod, see Tos. To Sanhedrin 38a s.v. Nichnas Yayin. 14 Sanhedrin 43a 15 Commentary of R. Menachem Meiri (Beis Habechira) ad loc. 16 See Midrash Tanchuma to Pikudei, and Tikkunei Zohar 24 (69a) 17 Sefer Abudraham to Arvis of Shabbos. This answer also appears in the Likkutei Tshuvos Hageonim published at the end of the Sefer Kolbo [see Beis Aaron (R. Aaron Maged) vol. 11 p. 605] 18 Maharam Metz quoted in Bayis Chadash to Tur O.C. 176
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Zekenim19, based upon Daas Zekenims opinion that Adams sin was a result of his having imbibed wine at his marriage ceremony to Chava, and this led him to a sin that brought death to the world. Therefore, says the Daas Zekenim, we say LChaim. All of these reasons are fascinating, for they teach us that our response to the failure of others to act nobly in their inebriation, should not be to shun wine. We still drink it but we do that with an extra dose of care, for we know that this exercise can potentially go awry.20 The prophet Malachi told of a time when the Jews return to Hashem. Then, he tells us, the vine will not tishakel for you.21 The commentaries22 there explain that tishakel is a word that is used when one loses children.23 Here, that term is borrowed to mean that the vine will not cast its fruit off in the field. The vine will not lose its children for you. The great Turkish scholar, Rabbi Avraham Palagi24 offers another interpretation. Noah was castrated by his son Ham25, when Ham caught him drunk. There were no more children born of Noah as a result of his carelessness. It was Noahs misuse of the vine that caused him to lose any future children that he would have had. Malachi was ushering in an era when we will not misuse our vines, and thus, the vine will not tishakel cause a loss of children for you! Wine can cause us to lose future generations. However, it is worth noting that that when boy from a good family marries a girl whose father is a Torah scholar their union is like wine made from grapes mingled with other grapes from the vine, whereas if he were to marry a girl whose father was a simpleton, it would be like wine made of grapes from the vine mingled with grapes from a thorn bush. 26 Children can be like the finest wine, and abuse of wine can cause the loss of children. Malachi talked of an era when will would not lose children because of our wine abuse. To the contrary our children will then be the finest vintages, from grafts of the purest finest vines. What is the meaning of all of this? Why is wine so important, and why is its misuse so egregious an offense?

Vayikra 10:9 There are other reasons given to say LChaim at Kiddush time. The Abudraham (ibid.) and Chida (Birkei Yosef 176) both offer another explanation that translates the Aramaic Lchayei as no more than I agree as it is often used in the Gemara, and understand that after savri, it was the custom for everyone to call out I agree. 21 Malachi 3:11 22 Metezudas David 23 Rashi to Bereshis 27:45 One who buries his child is called a shakul. 24 Avraham Anochi Vol. 2 p. 53b. 25 According to the late R. Shlomo Wolbe, (Shiurei Chumash Mipi Maran Hamashgiach, Jerusalem 2008 p. 66) this was not physical castration, but rather he rendered Noah unable to reproduce through the power of his gaze! 26 Pesachim 49a
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Wine is the essence of physical pleasure. But wine drinking is quite different that every single other food and drink. Wine changes the drinker. Sweet honey, or refreshing milk do not change the personality of the person, but a few cups of wine can. Your love is better than wine.27 Wine has the ability to bring out the inside of a person. The drunk is freer than the sober man. He says things that he would bottle up inside. As the wine enters the secrets exit. When we drink wine, we recognize the ability of the physical elements in this world to bring out spiritual feelings from inside of us. But they can also bring out destructive base feelings as well. The incredible challenge of the physical world is that we may fail! As bad as wine can be, that is what makes its proper use a challenge. We elevate our spiritual Shabbos through delightful food, and delicious drink. And wine. Man is charged to drink wine to engage in life. There are so many things in life that are difficult and challenging. It is not easy to support a family, or raise children. It is not easy to spend our lives working, shopping, and paying bills. But engaging in the world in the appropriate way will make us far better people than those who wander the deserts and cloister themselves on mountains and in monasteries. Drinking wine, and engaging life, are indeed enormous challenges fraught with danger, but the potential benefits are so great that we have no choice but to grab the bull by the horns, and do our very, very best.

Rabbi Elchanan Shoff was ordained by Rabbi Noah Weinberg of Aish Hatorah, and by Rabbi Zalman Nehemia Goldberg, Chief Justice of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. He is currently residing in Jerusalem, where he is a Senior Lecturer for Hineni International Programs (H.I.P), a Lecturer for Aish Hatorah, and teaches several other well attended classes each week as well. He is the author of Vaani Bahashem Atzapeh (Jeruslaem 2010) in Hebrew on Tehillim, and his weekly Torah email Strolling Through Paradise reaches some 700 people. He can be reached at Eshoff@aish.edu

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Shir Hashirim 1:2